Conversion Therapy ban bill announced at Pennsylvania Legislature
By Ronnie Allen Campman
Nonprofit Sector News
October 5, 2020
Merry, a 20-year-old music student from Georgia, remembers sitting in a therapist’s office gripping tightly onto his throw pillows, pulling the strings out as he told her, “You’re going to hell sweetie, unless we rip the gay out of you right now.”
For two years Merry, who declined to publish her full name, endured “conversion therapy.” The discredited practice aims at changing a person’s sexual orientation by means of cruel tactics.
The American Psychiatric Association determined that homosexuality was not a mental illness in 1973.
Merry, who was 17-years-old at the time, is one of the thousands of individuals who have been subjected to conversion therapy. Ten percent of LGBTQ youth reported undergoing conversion therapy this year. About 78% reported it occurred when they were under age 18, according to The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.
The Trevor Project is fighting to put an end to conversion therapy with its 50 Bills 50 States Campaign. The campaign focuses on the introduction and passage of protections at the statewide level.
During the coronavirus pandemic, while much of the nation ultimately shifted to working from home, The Trevor Project continued its trek toward ending the practice. In response to the new normal, Protecting with Pride, its newest campaign, was launched in 2020.
The goal of Protecting with Pride is to end conversion therapy in every state on a municipal level by educating policymakers and local residents on the dangers and mental effects of conversion therapy.
The campaign in July donated $165,000 to 22 state and local LGBTQ organizations. Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, Equality Federation Institute, Campaign for Southern Equality, Freedom Oklahoma Education Campaign and Transgender Education Network of Texas are among the recipients.
Pre-COVID, Campaign Manager Troy Stevenson and his colleagues were traveling across the country working on municipal bills. They were looking for innovative ways to continue working and not lose the progress that had been made with the 50 Bills 50 States campaign.
“The funding we had been spending on travel, we decided to give it directly to these grassroot organizations,” Stevenson said. “So we could still have people on the ground setting up virtual meetings with lawmakers and it’s more effective coming from these local voices.”
With that money local organizations have set up a billboard campaign in Iowa, a public education podcast in Arizona and other states have set up virtual meetings with one another to share their ideas.
Stevenson pointed out that even if bills are voted down by legislatures, young people can see organizations fighting for their protection and making sure that they know they are not alone. He also said parents may think twice about putting their children through this experience if legislation is being seriously considered to prohibit it.
Merry, a conversion therapy survivor, said that if this Campaign were around three years ago, maybe her parents would have done equal research into that as they did into conversion therapy. “I think a misconception about kids in conversion therapy is that they have these mean evil parents, but I think a lot of parents have just been indoctrinated into believing a certain way,” Merry said. “And if you thought your kid was gonna be punished and burn forever, then you’d want them to not suffer too and do whatever it takes to fix them.”
Stevenson is very passionate about the Protecting with Pride Campaign because of his personal connection to it. His first boyfriend was placed in conversion therapy in the late 1990s when they were teenagers. Stevenson can still recall his last phone call with his boyfriend where he pleaded to not be sent back to the process. The next morning he took his own life. More than thirty years later, youth who reported undergoing conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not, according to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.
Other prominent effects include PTSD. Merry still lives with the effects of these tactics to this day. She can still feel how cold the bowl of ice water was that her church counselor forced her to put her hands into while talking about her “homosexual thoughts.” This aversion technique aims to associate a person’s attraction with pain.
Three years later, Merry has trouble holding hands with her girlfriend and occasionally shutters at the sound of running water. She has difficulty trusting people and telling others that she is in a relationship with a woman, so most times she will say “boyfriend” out of fear for retaliation.
A San Francisco State University study found that LGBTQ young people who were highly rejected by loved ones are nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression and more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs than those who were not rejected.
The movement to legally end conversion therapy has been successful in 20 states, so 30 states still don’t have full protections against it. The Protecting with Pride Campaign and the 50 Bills 50 States Campaign are working to change that.
Stevenson said, “I don’t think there is a stronger level of hope that can be given to young people than the elected executive of a state saying that you matter, we will protect you and we are going to the politics aside to do that.”
(If you are a survivor of conversion therapy and need support please contact the TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386.)